During a budget workshop June 28 at which North Riverside trustees agreed to defer police and fire pension contributions for a fourth straight year, Trustee Rocco DeSantis warned the board could face a lawsuit – from the village’s police pension board, on which he is a voting member.

Complaining that pensions for employees belonging to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) are fully funded, DeSantis stated the police pension board would not look favorably on another year of deferring pension contributions for police.

“Police and fire have been funded once in the last five years,” said DeSantis. “The IMRF for non-union employees has been funded every year at over [$1.1 million]. I can guarantee if this board doesn’t give the pensions something, you will get sued. That is a promise.

“You will get sued by both pensions. And what happens if they win the suit?”

Asked by the Landmark after the meeting whether he saw his dual role as a village trustee and police pension board trustee as a conflict of interest, DeSantis denied such a conflict.

“To you it is; to me it’s not,” DeSantis said. “I’ll say my opinion, but I won’t vote either way, as a trustee or pension board member. The best way is not to vote.”

DeSantis said, however, he would advocate for the police pension board to sue the village over the issue of pension funding.

According to the village’s actuary, the village’s contributions for police and fire pensions for the 2011-12 fiscal year should be roughly $1.5 million. The fiscal year began on May 1.

But village trustees are faced with a nearly $2.2 million operating deficit in 2011-12 and decided on June 28 to defer the pension contribution until they had a better handle on actual revenues coming in to the village. If revenues come in higher than expected, trustees said they would explore making some sort of contribution to the pension funds as a token of good faith.

But DeSantis, a retired North Riverside police officer who is drawing a police pension, was wary of such a proposal, saying similar statements had been made in past years only to see pensions remain unfunded. A good-faith contribution, in his eyes, was one equal to the contribution being made to IMRF, or about $231,000 to each pension fund. Simply waiting to see how revenues come in wasn’t good enough, DeSantis said.

“What you’ve said is said every year though,” said DeSantis. “Funds are never available, so what are we gonna do?”

Asked by Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti what he would propose cutting to make the pension contributions, DeSantis said the budget should be sent back to department heads for further scrutiny.

Told by Scarpiniti that the only way to address the pension issue would be to cut services, DeSantis pointed to the village’s recreation department as a place to start cutting.

Scarpiniti replied that cutting recreation programs would not necessarily have much of an effect on the budget, since people pay to participate in the recreation programs, and most either break even or make a profit. She also reminded DeSantis that he previously voted against most fee increases discussed by the village board at a previous budget hearing.

Trustee Tom Corgiat, the board’s finance chairman, stated it would be unlikely for the village to make its pension contributions in 2011-12. However, he acknowledged that the village needed to start planning to solve the problem.

“I feel we know that we have to do this. By law it’s got to be done, and it will be done. Is it all going to be done right now? I doubt it, because the money isn’t there. So we’ve gotta move forward, we gotta look for it.”

The board’s finance committee has planned to meet to further discuss pension and other issues at a meeting on Monday, Sept. 12.